The Joup Friday Album: David Bowie – Reality

realityIt has been just over a month. A month since I woke up at 4:15 AM on a Monday and saw a text from a friend that said, “Dude, David Bowie just died”.

My friend had sent that text at 11:35 PM the night before. She had no doubt been grinding away hours on the late shift at the hospital where she works, maybe a slow night for intakes, probably surfing the internet on her phone when she happened upon the news just about the time it hit the AP wire. I saw it a few hours later in the daze of a Monday morning; still dark out, cold and unprepared for the work week let alone news that big.

I started to cry.

That week for me was a surreal funerary state, just as the week before must have been for the artist himself, as based on the release of and videos for his final album Black Star, he was obviously well aware of his timeline. For me things that had been constants in my life were being laid to their final, irretrievable end and now a ‘macro’ constant like David Bowie was also gone. I slunk around work and listened to absolutely nothing but his music for that first week, branched out once or twice the second week, didn’t really ‘let it go’ until the third week. It was my own celebration of his life and death.

I knew a lot of Bowie – not all of it, but a pretty good amount. I’ve always identified more with his later stuff. Weird? So I’ve been told, but I was a bit more of a casual fan until the day I heard 2003’s Reality for the first time. That was the record that opened my relationship with David Bowie’s music into a new plane. The first time I heard it I was floored. Reality didn’t sound like anything else I’d ever heard. There was no scene that it incorporated or drew from and there was likewise no scene that had sprung up around it. It was unique. And it was good. Really good. And it was perfectly calibrated for those lean musical years during the aughts. I mean, there’s always tons of good, new music to be had, but something about the period from 2000- 2009 just felt abysmal.

“These blackest of years

That have no sound

No shape, no depth

No underground”

Those are lyrics from Fall Dog Bombs The Moon, my second favorite song on Reality, an album where I LOVE every song. Fall Dog David_Bowie_-_A_Reality_Tour_DVDis the one that lyrically crystallized what the rest of the album seemed to say directly to me about that period in my life and the world; despite napster revealing an entire echelon of music I’d never dreamed imaginable, and regardless of the fact that bands like Queens of the Stone Age, High On Fire and Deftones were just starting to hit their strides there often seemed no shape, no depth, no underground. I believe this was because the aughts was about the time that A) the record industry as a gatekeeper went on hospice and B) in a manner of speaking, during that death rattle,  the industry or “Overground” had learned to try to consume and imitate the underground, and we were all the worse for it. It was a very bi-polar time in music, and that was mirrored perfectly in my own head: perpetually single, too many drugs, empty physical relationships that left me empty and alone. Dark. Shapeless. Two-dimensional at times. Kicking my legs furiously in a tidal wave of shit music, package tours, diminished icons, disappointing heroes. But constantly moving, making progress with a band, gaining self confidence. Leaving the country repeatedly, new vistas and friendships and books peeling my eyes open to previously occulted secrets, agendas and connections. Big, big ideas forced into small brain matter. Reality is perfect for this. Indeed it seems to be about this; the manner in which as a solid album it flits between a fierce celebratory ethic (Reality, Pablo Picasso), harbingers (New Killer Star), the time travel of reverie (Try Some, Buy Some, Bring Me the Disco King) and the backbone of it all an often lonely, forlorn tone so perfectly perpetuated by the haunting loop that opens the record, the sometimes sad resignation that sneaks into the guitar melodies and keyboards, the flow of a record that dips its head below black waves (The Loneliest Guy) and then comes screaming back out for a triumphant grasp of air (Looking for Water), right down to the David Lynch/Black Lodge fireplace jazz of album closer Bring Me the Disco King, a track originally recorded in a different form for Bowie’s early 90s SoHo contemporary jazz record Black Tie White Noise. And through it all there’s Mr. Bowie’s new face, sometimes younger looking than his previous face. And his voice – the perfected, reflective lower register – a perfect diametric to his younger, higher penchant for vocal crescendo – all of this affected me greatly. Sonically. Personally. Emotionally.


Upon David Bowie’s death and my fugue of sadness that followed I began to wonder why I was affected as much as I was. There have only really been two other musician deaths that affected me – Layne Staley and Peter Steele – and even those did not have quite the massive impact on me that Bowie did. Not that one needs a reason to follow an icon’s death with sadness, but three weeks of mourning? I thought about it a lot during those weeks, where I loaded all twenty-five or so Bowie records I own onto my iPod – many of them making the rounds to ‘headphone listening’ for the first time – and what I realized in retrospect about two days ago when I found my 16 year old cat Lily dead at 4:15 in the morning – death staring me directly in the face – is that the reason I had previously identified with later David Bowie more than the marvelous catalogue of music from his ‘hey day’ is really quite simple. Like most sentient beings on this planet I have absolutely no idea how to age. I don’t necessarily know that I don’t know how to age (although now I guess I do) but it doesn’t matter because it’s something that drives me on some subconscious level. You know, a man has a child and doesn’t necessarily realize that his schematic for raising that child is going to have been culled from observing someone else be a father, whether his own or a friend or relative. But that’s where that skill, that information comes from. We are the world’s most sophisticated recording devices and we record EVERYTHING. So I didn’t set out to look for a role model to guide me through the aging process, but I did. And at some point long ago, without even realizing it, I subconsciously chose David Bowie as my guide for growing old. Why? Look at the pictures I’ve embedded throughout this piece – he looks better, more sophisticated, more artistic, more confident the more he ages. It’s amazing. Time is going to kill us all, aging is a process, an enemy and a friend. And in my opinion, NO ONE DID IT BETTER than David Bowie.

And now he’s dead. And that, ladies and Gentlemen, is Reality.

If you dig it, buy it. Doesn’t matter that the man is dead – music lives on. Tag Amy!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: David Bowie – Reality
  1. Tommy Reply

    Awesome. Maybe one of the best things i’ve ever read from you.

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